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Just for You.

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My husband and I recently gave ourselves the gift of a few days in Yosemite National Park. There were jaw-dropping vistas, cliffs so dramatic they make you weep, waterfalls that remind you how mortal you are, and rivers and trees that murmur the blessings of Mother Nature to you, welcoming you home. All of it is so special and remarkable that you feel that you are the first, that this is a gift just for you.

The city smut sloughs off of you and you can clearly feel your exhaustion. You hadn’t been aware of how depressed and isolated you had become. The separation from anything real snuck up on you, seeping in insidiously until you had lost hope in this current, science-denying country of ours, and assumed everyone but you saw Mother Nature as a big ol’ whore to be pimped to the highest bidding john.

But you look again, and miracle of miracles, you realize there are others. Many others. “Oh,” you say with tears of surprise and relief in your eyes as you see that someone else cares, “I thought I was the only one left who gave a shit.” There are many who have come to be in this sacred space to remember who they are. People who realize that without wilderness, we can never know ourselves, or our place in the world. Individuals, like yourself, who value the world as it is rather than reducing it with their small-minded greed to a disposable commodity.  People who know that we have fucked up—big time—but it’s not yet too late, not quite, and they will not let her die without a fight. These people are the planet’s medics on the battlefield, the last line of defense against the disease of the uncaring ravagers and pillagers. We humans, meant to be the stewards of nature, have instead wounded the world, lost our way, but there is a path that leads back. It’s a sobering thought that the world will not be healed in our lifetimes. Bringing back a healthy environment will take generations.

Which is one reason that, as much as I love my own experiences hiking or exploring or just admiring, I get a real visceral thrill when I see and hear children’s enthusiasm that matches, or even exceeds my own. I love sharing my meager knowledge, or pointing out a deer in the trees, or maybe encouraging them to take off their shoes and feel the cold water and smooth stones of the creek on their feet. If they don’t know it, they can’t love it, and if they don’t love it, they won’t protect it.

When I was a small child, my mother said she had to get a hold of me if we ever went somewhere high with a view because I would race to the edge with my arms flung wide and scream at the top of my lungs. Every daring glimpse of the cosmos was a gift, just for me, and I took it.

My mom called it energy, and it was, but it was something more than just my personal energy, more even than childish unbridled joy. It was a few precious seconds of connection with the swirling, glorious infinity of nature and the universe. I know that feeling, I remember it. I still get it, though people freak a bit if, as an adult, I launch myself to the edge of a precipice and scream. I don’t know why—just one of life’s many mysteries. So I’ve learned to temper my reaction, sadly, but my husband still gets a hold of my belt when we get close to high, open places. He is wary of my impulse to be out in that air, to experience sitting in the twenty story windowsill or on the edge of bridges. Both of which I’ve also been known to do, feet dangling over the width and breadth of San Francisco bay, or the lights of a city night.

In that same spirit I have twirled on rooftops, waltzed on the Eiffel tower, whooped with bliss on the African Savannah, hummed with the crickets in the forest at night, leapt from a rocky cliff into the chill of the magnificent Pacific, and laid down in the rain with my face up to the sky, watching the water fall. Note, it’s important to squint when you do this, it makes it easier to keep your eyes open.

And why? For life, to feel the whorl and tides of unmitigated force and vitality. It’s a precious gift and I damn well am going to open it every chance I get.

Possibly the only thing I enjoy as much as gulping in bliss and nature is watching and hearing kids do it. Their enthusiasm is endless, not unlike my own, and their expressions have not yet been tempered or their unchecked joy corrected, limited, and restrained. Their awe is unbridled and infinite.

Sometimes, probably unfairly, it makes me nuts when people treat an outing to someplace like Yosemite as a photo shoot for their kids. Reining them in from the hugeness of the experience to try to contain it in a few thousand pixels. I get it, we all want to document our experience and to share it, but not at the cost of the kids discovering it while they’re there.

So it’s nice to find a balance. I was at the base of Yosemite falls and a mom with two boys, very young, maybe 3 and 5, was trying to line them up for a photo, drawing them away from the toddler-mind-blowing reality in front of them. Away from the now for a future reward. The younger boy slumped, hands hanging almost to his knees as he moaned, “Why do we always have to take a picture?” His older brother, no doubt sensing the inevitable and wanting to get it over with, threw an arm over his little brother’s shoulder and drew him close. Turning their backs on the object of delight to pose for mom, he explained, shouting over the roar into his brother’s ear, “Because these are memories.” As he said the word ‘memories,’ he stretched the last syllable, turning the eee sound, into a big smile, which he turned toward the camera. Click, and they were back to the moment where they belonged, exhilarated at the sheer thrill of the explosive power of falling water. They leaned over the stone bridge and screamed into the crash of impact and danced in the magical mist that engulfed them.

And that’s our life, sometimes we take the gift of now, and sometimes we wrap one up for the future into a tiny computer file to look at later and bring the memories and the sensations of something grander than ourselves back to us when we sit at our desks or in the carpool lane. A gift of now for the future, just for you.

I suppose that’s what a great family trip in nature is, a gift for now and for later.

“Please,” I pray to Mother Nature, “please let the children remember. Let them love you so that they find the courage to protect you.”

And she whispers back to me, “It is in their soul now, it always was, but here they have found it again.”

Then, being Mother Nature and a bit unpredictable not to mention snarky, she adds, “And it’s on mom’s cellphone, so…you’re welcome.”

Then she winks and fades away with the most glorious sunset that ever was, to work her magic on the twilight.

 

Just for me.

 

 

Shari, April 11, 2018

 

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The Fowl Revolution

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General T stalks the evil beast

 

For the last couple years, every time I visited a certain area of my daughter’s campus, my car was attacked by a turkey. He was an angry, brave little dude, darting fearlessly into the street and pecking ruthlessly at the tires on a mysterious mission that we may never fully understand.

This local wild turkey had for some reason decided that he had had enough of these fools overwhelming his homeland. The many students hurrying to class or studying on the lawns of the nearby library had grown accustomed to the aggressive fowl, barely taking notice as cars seeking shelter in the nearby parking lot were forced into gridlock when confronted by the university’s very own, and very real, angry bird. He comes out charging, head down, feathers slightly ruffled so that his stunted wings looked more like spoilers on a coupe, as he fearlessly holds his own against two ton hunks of motorized metal. He was almost as persistent as the metered-parking enforcers that lurk amongst the trees wielding citation pads. Almost.

And now, after a good year or two of breeding and gene transference there are no less than eight attack turkeys. General T has taught his family well. An avian army is mustering. One has to wonder what’s in store for these rebels as they continue to reproduce, passing on the DNA of aggression to the next year’s generation. What will it be like over at the Engineering department next year, or even a decade from now? I envision students and faculty in shin guards, riding in armored campus buses, or hurrying fearfully between buildings and lecture halls while turkeys with bandana covered faces chant, “Humans will not replace us!” while brandishing pine cones and twigs in a menacing manner.

Hey, I don’t blame the birds for their random acts of violence. They live all summer, as they have for thousands of years, in this pristine forest filled with redwoods and ferns, and all of a sudden here come seventeen thousand humans in the fall, reeking of tea tree oil shampoo and melon scented deodorant, their limbs are stained with ink pictographs, they carry noise makers and are draped in brightly colored costumes that clash mightily with the environment. Come on, you can almost hear General T saying, get it together dude, unless it’s mating season your plumage is supposed to blend in! Camouflage, hello? Stealth? And what right do they have to bring these nasty, greedy, black-smoke-belching predators right though our ancient breeding ground! They don’t even eat what they kill. Forest Justice for all poultry!

It is, after all, an institute of learning known for activism. Just ask my Republican family, they’ll snort derisively and snidely imply with a condescending tone of voice that it’s a hippy school. Never mind that this University produces more top scientists, biologists, astrophysicists, and business leaders than Harvard, nevermind that it’s an academic education that far exceeds their own, it’s in Northern California, and to my republican siblings and parents that means the dirtiest of dirty words. Liberal. It’s the one word with no S’s that they can still hiss. Three syllables that make their ears bleed, not unlike what they think of my heart. The very idea of learning to evolve as a species seems to scare the hell out of them. So those turkeys would feature in their worst conservative nightmares, no doubt causing them to wake up sweating, trembling and gobbling, “Fowl!” Before they turn on their Tiffany’s bedside light and start muttering, “Why can’t those damn turkeys go to their own segregated college like God intended. Next thing you know, women will be allowed to play professional golf with men! This country is going to hell. God Damn liberalsssssss.”

What would they think of that one damn indigenous bird fighting for his turkey rights? “Who the hell does he think he is objecting to having his world paved over? Damn turkeys should be grateful to be smushed into American pavement! It would be an honor for him to be eviscerated and stuffed full of stale bread in our country!” Friggen’ wild turkeys stealing jobs from our factory farms!”

Okay, my family isn’t quite that bad, but it’s fun to poke back at them when they laugh at me for not believing I’m as entitled as they are, and I can’t really think of a nicer way to put that. I deleted quite a few other versions of that sentence.

When you send your kids to college, you never know what added benefits will come from that higher education. This is one time that trickle down is actually a factor. I consider my new knowledge of Meleagrididae, of the genus Meagridea, (aka common wild turkey) worth the tuition. I was also horrified to discover, while doing research for this very scientific blog, that the third most asked question about this bird is sadly this, “Is the country of Turkey named after the bird?” Yep, higher education is pretty desperately needed right here, right now, in this country. “We’re number one because one is higher than two!” I can just imagine these uneducated citizens chanting. I’m guessing those same people think the Ottoman Empire is the name of a furniture factory. The Ottoman Empire, by the way, is also commonly known as the Turkish Empire and they invaded Europe around 1354. Maybe this current day college turkey has transcontinental empires on his tiny brain too. It would explain the antagonistic tendencies and the increase in his military.

A few other fun facts; Did you know a very young turkey is called a poult? I guess the birds who live on this campus earn their ‘RY’ when they complete their degree, or reach eating age. It’s a title they are granted at commencement. Theresa Poult, RY. Major in delicious with a minor in entomology. Or did you know that turkeys eat small animals? Who knew your holiday bird could be fattened up with slugs and rats? The knowledge you can acquire at a top-rated University for half a million dollars is really pretty amazing.

So moving on; since we have now learned that turkeys will eat meat, do you think those turkeys will attack a vegan on campus as decisively as a meat eater? Do they discriminate? Do they prefer the taste of cannabis-smoked freshmen to beer-poached sophemores? Does wild muscadine grape pair well with organic graduate students?

I’m being silly, I know, but evolution is a funny thing. And there is a strange parallel here. Creatures learn to adapt in order to survive, our kids learn for pretty much the same reason. I wonder if those turkey chicks pulled-all nighters memorizing the strike zone on Volvo tires. I imagine the extra credit question on their finals; “Which area is most likely to puncture through the inner tube? Draw a diagram of the layers of steel belted radials and a short essay explaining the pros and cons of attacking a whitewall.”

That first attack turkey, General T, sent his chicks off to scratch out a living and fight the man in spite of all the scary changes to his world. We send our kids off to college to learn to deal with authority, scary real life, and apparently, uh…turkeys?

You never know what you’ll have to deal with in life, but one thing I think I can promise you is that if you educate yourself about it, you’ll do much better—and be far more entertained—than if you remain ignorant. So let me close with some fun facts to know and share.

The country of Turkey was not named after the bird.

Ottoman is not the name of a low, upholstered stool.

Education is not your enemy.

Look it up.

You have a dictionary in your hand.

Learn something.

Evolve.

Or be devoured by wild turkeys.

Poultry justice!

Life is full of funny choices.

 

 

Shari, October 18th, 2017

 

It’s the Feeling that Counts.

The the Feeling that Counts.

Does this photo make you feel something? That’s me on a hike in Sequoia, and I remember the feeling of standing there, above the clouds, with the cold wind on my face and all the world stretched before me. It gives me a thrill of joy and hugeness to see this, to remember that moment.

There is a style of acting known as Grotowski. Now, it’s a whole complex system of digging and following your natural feelings and I’m not going to go into all of it, but I will share with you budding actors and writers out there what I took from my study of it. What worked, and still works, for me, on the stage, and on the page.

Here’s how I first discovered it. I was working with an actor who was playing a Mob boss. The director wasn’t happy with the way he was entering the room for the scene. He told him, “More arrogant!”

Now, that’s all very good and well as a direction, but it isn’t the kind of thing you can emotionally play. Yet, the actor thought for a moment, left the stage and entered again. This time, his entire body language was transformed, his head was higher, a secret smile played on his lips and he stood with utter confidence.

I was stunned at how fast he’d made the change. The director said, “Wow, okay, what did you just do?”

“Oh,” the actor replied, “I just imagined a warm tropical breeze blowing on my face.”

Wow is right. Think about it. Take a moment to imagine the sensation of a balmy breeze lifting the hair around your face and caressing your body, relaxing your muscles with it’s perfect temperature and see how it changes your body language and stance. That’s the day I started using exterior sensations to create attitudes and emotions.

Cut to a moment in a film when I’m doing my sixteenth take and I’m waiting just inside a door knowing that any second, someone will come through it and kill me. Mind you, no one will in this take, they’ll shoot that later, so I have to create the moment. As the camera rolls, I imagine a large hairy spider at the base of my spine. I can feel all eight of its tiny claws clasping my skin. As the director calls ‘action,’ I imagine it beginning to move, crawling, slowly at first, up my spine. Then as the moment comes when I ‘react’ to the door flying open, a moment that will be shot later, I imagine the spider scuttles up to the base of my neck and sinks in its fangs. I shudder, scream, and pretty much lose it.

Pretty good substitute right? I mean, if you give it a moment, you will physically feel something that you are imagining fully. For actors, we keep the interior dialogue silent, and show the emotion.

For writers, it’s the opposite. We show the emotion by writing the interior dialogue. “She sat, petrified, as though at the base of her spine, a black widow was testing it’s fangs over her tender skin.”
Or some such. See? works both ways.

The best acting, of course, is a combination of so many things. I have a friend who was one of only two in his entire class graduating with a masters in acting. During the final exam/performance for the professors, the other actor broke down and started to sob. “I can’t do this.”

The professors invited him to sit down and asked what was going on. He said, “I can’t do it. I’m supposed to be connected with my eyes, ears and body, I’m supposed to be ‘in my spine.’ I’m trying to remember my history, my choices, my sensory work, and the character’s intentions. Not to mention the vocal placement, dialect, etc. I just can’t do it all at the same time.”

Out of the dark theatre came a voice. “You’re not supposed to do all of that at once. No one could. The point is to have done the work, have those techniques available, and then let go and let it all come through.”

The actor raised his tear stained face to the silhouettes in the dark and said, “Oh.”

Fortunately for my friend, the other guy had gone first. So he was spared making the same mistake.

We try all of these methods, some things work for us, some things don’t. We all ‘connect’ differently. Some in our eyes, some in our ears, some in our bodies. I’m more physical. It suits me. Think of an aggressive person who gets in your face. You might cross your arms or take a step backwards, that’s being connected in your body, almost anyone would tense up. An actor who thinks it’s tough to not react at all, is not connected physically. We’ll do more on this next time.

The point is, learn it, try it, use what works. Don’t be afraid to go there, and don’t be afraid to throw it out. Writers, did you already make that point? Do you really need to do it with four more metaphors? Cut it!!

That’s what my first editor, a fabulous woman named Amy Peirpont would have called, “Too purple.” I learned a lot from her.

So keep all the feeling, make big choices, and don’t be too purple, maybe a shade of soft lavender would be best for this book-character-role.

But no matter what, feel the wind on your face, and smile.

Shari 10-16-2012

Snakes without Fangs

Snakes without Fangs

I posted a picture on FB of me holding a snake I found on a trail and the comments were interesting. It was clear that people are afraid of the snake, not because it can hurt them or because it’s poisonous, but because it’s a snake. There’s one kind of snake that survives by imitating a rattle snake, the rat snake. That trick works in nature, other animals are fooled, but with humans, well, let’s face it, they just try to kill it anyways.

That’s nothing but ignorance and media gullibility. Snakes do not chase you down, like in Anaconda. (Except maybe black mambas, and I try to steer clear of them.) And living with these amazing creatures is a joy and a gift. I’m no snake expert, but I have bothered to learn what’s dangerous and isn’t in the area where I live and hike, and my life is richer for it. That’s just smart. If I lived in the Serengeti I wouldn’t take a stroll out into lion territory without some way to escape or a knowledge of where the lions are hunting that day.

I relate this fear of the unknown to so many people I know, and things that have happened recently. People get bitten by snakes for two reasons, they step on it, or they poke at it with a stick. If they weren’t afraid of it, they’d take a picture and move on.

Where did we get this fear of what we don’t understand? I recently had someone make a slew of accusations about me on the web, and trust me, it’s not easy to read a bunch of lies about yourself, your husband, and your children. It was someone who thinks she has reason to fear me, and was hissing to try to strike back, but in truth, I see her and her comments, as the fangless, harmless snake poop that they are and the behavior as that of a baser type of creature. Information is a good thing. I know not to fear a rat snake, or even a rattle snake if I’m aware. I know I’m a good mom who works very hard and has made choices in her life to make less money in the short run in favor of a life filled with community and art and mom-ness. I was raised with money, so it isn’t such a motivator for me as it is to someone who comes from nothing. I have a loving family, so I understand that someone who doesn’t, can’t relate to the value of that over a bigger house. Yes, those are my choices. If I wanted what someone else had, trust me, I would have it. I have exactly what I want, a loving, talented, husband, an unbreakable bond with my daughters, my writing, my many incredible friends, and a beautiful home that is a place of laughter, nature, and retreat. I want for nothing, I have an amazing life. Everyday I am thankful for it.

These choices might be impossible for someone to grasp who hasn’t got it. Jewelry and cars cannot replace true accomplishment and contentment, I know this because I have had so much of both. But how would someone know that when they are looking at life through eyes that see only the preconceived? It’s like the harmless rat snake, it can’t hurt you, but you fear it out of ignorance, because you were taught that they’re scary, or worse, because it serves you to try to scare others with the falsehood.

Can’t you just hear that human’s rattle going? The hiss, hiss, of the upset reptile, which really means, of course, “I’m afraid of you, stay away.”

So, as much as I might like to poke certain snake people with a sharp stick, I know better not to, I learned that from snakes. And, come on, it’s just common sense. I’ll keep admiring the real snakes and ignoring the human ones.

So, in conclusion, don’t fear the noise, don’t fear the scales, look at the snake, see how beautiful the pattern of its skin is? How beautifully it moves through the grass?

And the rattle goes, trrrrrrrrrr. Sounds like music to me, part of the symphony of life. Rich, stark, profound and trite, it is all magnificent.

Don’t fear snakes, fear ignorance.

Or just accept that we live with both, and be happy.

Shari, 10-6-2012

Backyard buddies.

Here’s a little friend I found trying to swim in my pool. I was glad to see him, and one of his siblings the day before, because we’ve had a shortage of snakes this year. For those of you who don’t understand this, it means—an excess of rodents! Now, I love to see my little country mice in my yard, nibbling on nuts and berries, but they don’t know from the nuts and berries in my kitchen cabinets. I’ve tried talking to them, but some species just won’t listen, and it’s not just the males. So, I’m all for a better, natural balance. Bring on the serpents!Image

I’m always careful when I hike in the hills to watch for snakes. I see them pretty much everyday, and if I don’t, I sometimes hear them, just the rattlers, in the tall grass. I get to thinking I’m pretty serpent savvy and then I go and do something stupid. Today, I hike up a few thousand feet, then start down the steep part. It’s very dry and the steep ground is hard, so it’s easy to slip. I always carry a stick to swat a the grass ahead of me, just to let the ghetto snakes know I’m coming, but suddenly, I find myself, not on my feet, but on my butt and rolling into the rattlesnake habitat. The whole time, I’m muttering, “Oh please don’t let me land on a snake, Oh please don’t let me land on a snake.”
I didn’t. but it got me thinking that life is like that. Sometimes, you’re feeling cocky, looking at golden swaying grasses and blue sky, and the next minute, you’re face down in hostile reptile habitat.
It always helps to land facing up, where you can say to yourself, “My, what a lovely blue sky.”